Generation next: Six players to watch for in men’s tennis
Mochizuki Shintaro is hoping to qualify for his home Games in Tokyo next summer. The 17-year-old leads a crop of up-and-coming juniors to watch in men's tennis.
The ‘Big 3’ in men’s tennis – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – have led the way in the sport for much of the last decade as new generations have arrived to challenge them. But that doesn’t keep us from wondering who the big stars of the next 10 years will be in the sport.
While it’s expected that familiar names will contend for gold at Tokyo 2020 next summer, including the aforementioned three, as well as new stars like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev and Matteo Berrettini, what about in Paris 2024? Or, peering into the Olympic crystal ball, Los Angeles 2028?
Here, we’ve picked six junior success stories in boys’ tennis to give us a glimpse into the future.
Mochizuki Shintaro, Japan, 17
Junior ranking: 3 Pro: 732
Big title: Wimbledon, 2019
Last summer Mochizuki, who trains at IMG Academy in Florida much like Japanese sporting hero Kei Nishikori, became the boy from his country to win a junior Grand Slam, victorious on the grass courts of Wimbledon. He has a game that many have taken notice of: He doesn’t hesitate to move into the net, calling Federer his inspiration.
“I like coming to net a lot,” he told reporters at Wimbledon. “My coach has given me a lot of advice to improve (it).”
Another fount of knowledge for Mochizuki? 2014 US Open runner-up Nishikori, who he has practised with. “He gives me a lot of advice,” Mochizuki said of Nishikori. “I learn from him a lot. He’s smart.”
Mochizuki also led Japan to the Junior Davis Cup Final trophy to finish the 2019 season.
Harold Mayot, France, 18
Junior ranking: 1 Pro: 454
Big title: Australian Open, 2020
From Gael Monfils to Richard Gasquet, France has had a healthy “pipeline” of top-level male players for years and years, but no man has won a Grand Slam singles title since Yannick Noah in 1983.
Can Mayot change that? If the tattoo on his back is any indication, the answer is “yes.” The tattoo is of a lion: “That’s me on court,” he told ITFtennis.com in 2019, in reference to the lion tattoo. “That symbolises me.”
A fighter on court, will Mayot be a factor at Paris 2024? The competition to qualify for the French team will be stiff: While four French players rank among the top 20 in the juniors, there are 11 among the top 100 in the pro ranks, including another young gun to watch, 21-year-old Ugo Humbert.
Lorenzo Musetti, Italy, 18
Junior ranking: N/R Pro: 284
Big title: Australian Open, 2019
At just 16 years old, Musetti won the Australian Open in 2019 to become the first Italian to triumph as a junior Down Under. He followed that victory with a careful carving into the senior ranks, working his way into the world’s top 300 with two ITF World Tennis Tour titles.
Still only 18, he’s had practice sessions with Federer (his idol), Djokovic and more. Much like France, Italy has a rich amount of talent in the men’s game currently, led by burgeoning star Berrettini and veteran Fabio Fognini.
“I will look to take my experience… the training I did this year with Roger, Novak and Daniil (Medvedev), and use that to my advantage on court,” he told the ITF in January. Musetti has a throwback aspect to his game, a la Federer: The one-handed backhand.
Holger Rune, Denmark, 17
Junior ranking: 2 Pro: 832
Big title: French Open 2019
It was just this past January that Denmark’s most successful singles player, Caroline Wozniacki, hung up her rackets, finishing out a career that included multiple stints at No.1 in the world and a crowning win at the 2018 Australian Open.
The Scandinavian nation has been scant on major stars in tennis, particularly on the men’s side. Enter Rune (full name: Holger Nodskov Vitus Rune), who could change all of that, already a junior Grand Slam winner and (also) a practice partner to the stars.
“I want to win all the Grand Slams and be No.1 in the world,” he said in 2019. “And the Olympics.”
Rune trains at the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy in the south of France, Mouratoglou being the same coach who has guided Serena Williams since 2012 and who also oversees the games of Tsitsipas, Coco Gauff and many others in the sport.
Tseng Chun Hsin, Chinese Taipei, 18
Junior ranking: N/R Pro: 280
Big title: French Open & Wimbledon, 2018
Doesn’t hurt to share a birthday with the one and only Federer, does it? Born on 8 August exactly 20 years after Federer, Tseng – who goes by Jason – made history in 2018, becoming the first junior boy to do the Paris-London double since Monfils in 2004.
The dual triumph showed his versatility on clay and grass, and he shares the Mouratgolou Academy training grounds with Rune. He grew up in working class Taipei City, his parents owners of a small food stand, which sells tanghulu, a dessert made of glazed fruit and tomatoes on a stick, at the night market in Taipei City.
Mouratoglou likes Tseng’s work ethic: “He is an incredibly hard worker,” he said in 2018. He, like Musetti, has vaulted inside the top 300.
Martin Damm, U.S., 16
Junior ranking: 5 Pro: 911
Big results: Semi-finals, French Open & Wimbledon, 2019
Like father like son? The American teen hopes so, as Martin Damm Sr. was a successful doubles player in the 1990s and 2000s, winning the US Open in 2006 alongside Olympic legend Leander Paes.
Damm, a lefty, lost to Rune (French Open) and Mochizuki (Wimbledon) in respective semi-finals last year, but packs a powerful game that could take a few more years to develop, including a monstrous serve – much like dad.
Damm trains with Mochizuki in Florida, joined by another American many have their eye on: Toby Kodat, currently the world No.18 in juniors, and runner-up to Rune at the French Open in 2019. Damm and Kodat paired up to win a main draw match at the US Open in doubles last year.
In the crowd watching that day? Martin Sr., his father. “It’s definitely tougher to watch (than play),” the Grand Slam doubles winner told USOpen.org.